Sunday, January 29, 2006

You're with us or against us

Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't
ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.
When do you do the right thing? When do you absolutely have to do the right thing, whatever the consequences?

This is a bad time in politics for principled behavior. The Bush Administration has made it known through word and deed that loyalty to Bush always comes first, with loyalty to Republicans a distant second. Any adherence to principle that makes you act contrary to these two primary obligations is likely to get you fired. Take, for example, the quickly neutered DiIulio, who scampered away from his "Mayberry Machiavellis" statement as soon his infamous letter to Esquire was made public.

Some people are having more private struggles with principle and what the Bush administration requires, and they're genuinely tough decisions to make. Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor writes about the particular bind that employees with high-level classifications face:
Former intelligence officer Russ Tice wants to tell Congress about what he believes were illegal actions undertaken by the National Security Agency in its highly sophisticated eavesdropping programs.

But he can't. He's been warned by the NSA that the information is so highly classified that even members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees - who are charged with overseeing the work of the intelligence community - don't have clearance to hear about them. If Mr. Tice talks at the hearings early next month, he could face criminal prosecution.
There are a number of people stuck in this web. She adds:
According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of government employees coming forward to report allegations of wrongdoing within the government increased 46 percent in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
In addition to lower-level workers, there have been objections at the highest levels to the unlimited extension of executive power that the Bush administration has insisted is its king-like right. Never forget, they're torturing people in your name to assuage their own fear and their own unwillingness to be criticized. Newsweek writes about the brave battles that James Comey, Jack Goldsmith and others waged behind the scenes to get the administration to obey the law, the counterweight to favored opinion-writers like John Yoo, who would gladly allow the United States to break the Geneva Convention, and defined torture so narrowly that, basically, no one who lives through any procedure has been tortured. The entire article is worth reading.
These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.
Most of these battles were waged far away from the public eye, and accordingly, it must have startled some when Harry Reid sent out an email that read in part
I have been in public service for over 40 years and never been as disillusioned as I am today. In 1977, I was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It was a difficult time for the gaming industry and Las Vegas, which were being overrun by organized crime During the next few years, there would be threats on my life, FBI stings and even a car bomb placed in my family's station wagon. What is happening today in Washington is every bit as corrupt as when Las Vegas was run by the mob, but the consequences for our country are worse. These Republicans have created the most corrupt government in our history. Their "K Street Project" is a shakedown machine that would make the mafia blush. We cleaned up Las Vegas, and we will clean up Washington DC.
It's rare to see a staid politician like Harry Reid draw a direct link from the behavior of organized crime to the Republican political machine. But such a comparison has never been more apt. This kind of fighting attitude is the needed tonic to get these incompetent, lying crooks out of office.

(Photo of Al Pacino adapted from fair-use photo found on Wikipedia.)

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